This week I reviewed the recently released (April 30th, 2014) Croixleur Sigma by souvenir circ. They have developed a few games since their start in 2006, but Croixleur is their first game to be widely released.
Croixleur is described as a frenetic hack-&-slash arcade action game. It’s steeped in a deep tradition of anime and Japanese style games. This was a game I really enjoyed, but was not blown away by.
The graphics for this game are split into 3 sections: cutscenes, dialogue & menus, and gameplay. Let me start by saying that all 3 are very good.
The game starts out with a cutscene that is simple, yet aesthetically pleasing. The art for cutscenes is different from the actual gameplay and dialogue graphics. They look more like hand drawn images from a cartoon than parts of a video game. Easy to read white text is upholstered over the beautiful backgrounds in an efficient and spatially sound manner. Cutscenes are composed of one image, each with changes in text and music.
And there are not that many of them. A full playthrough of the story mode will give you a total of 3 for either character plus 1 more for bonus mode. I don’t need to say much more about them because the accompanying image really does sum up what they look like. Simplicity and elegance used sparingly and successfully.
The dialogue and menus are both done in the same visual style. The majority of text is white in a half block/half rounded style. Opacity is used heavily in order to keep you in the world of the game while still conveying important information. In a very cutesy style, no hard edges are used. Text is shown within rounded bubbles of different shapes and sizes, each filled with a pretty background of orange and light brown.
The dialogue is done in the same style as most classic JRPGs, where pictures that ultimately look different and more cartoony than their in game renders pop up over the game and have a back and forth conversation that is subtitled with speech bubbles. Pictures of the 2 characters also change expressions to go along with the dialogue. It’s done very subtly so that you might not notice it, and even when you do it’s only in facial expression, leaving the rest of the portrait the same throughout the conversation.
I also really liked that the dialogue bubbles changed shape to match the emotions of the characters. Since it really is just 2 characters talking back and forth in Japanese, it was really important to convey visually what the characters were not only saying but feeling. souvenir circ. did a great job of presenting the dialogue scenes in a way that English readers/speakers can connect with even though the voice overs aren’t in English.
The gameplay looks very good. It’s a much cleaner (round, smooth, and less pixelated), but also much simpler Final Fantasy VII. What’s nice about Croixleur is that it has a mildly intricate plot, but is contained within a relatively simple world of visuals. No matter which of the 5 modes you are playing, the game is always housed within a small round stadium.
Yet this stadium is anything but simple. Differences in section, difficulty, and story are shown through changes in color, texture, patterns, and backgrounds. Once again, the less-is-more mentality comes into play successfully. The HUD uses similar visual styles as the menus, but in a smaller, cuter way. Not to mention the chibi version of your character behind your life bar. Everything is simple to read and interpret.
The combat graphics are very fast paced, yet clean. Every occurrence, whether it be a basic attack, special attack, dash, or enemy spawn has a visual effect to go with it. Dragonball Z comes to mind when playing because of all the flashing and dashing around. But I am happy to say that there is no lag, even on my piece of junk laptop.
While it can’t necessarily be called a flaw, especially in such a relatively short game, the enemies are the only place where the graphics fall short. There are only 5 different enemy renders in the whole game and only 3 of them are complicated. Differences in enemies come down mostly to the colour of clothing. Other than that, you’ll see the same thing over and over again throughout the game for a total of 12 different types of enemies plus a boss.
Enemies are mostly solid coloured with basically no texturing except with knights and the final boss which is nice for a dragon, but it’s no Archdemon (extra points if you can name that game in the comments).
Ultimately I really like the graphics for their cute style and smooth, clean finish. souvenir circ. did a great job and chose visuals that are appropriate to the style and desired feel of the game. But I would not say that I was impressed by the graphics in the sense that they were better than most games of the same or similar genres.
The fastest description of the gameplay for Croixleur is the simple man’s God of War. The game is composed solely of combat and dialogue. There’s no store or upgrading or anything intricate.
The game says gamepads are recommended. That’s a false statement. Gamepads are mandatory. I couldn’t imagine playing this game effectively without a gamepad. It supports both XBOX 360 and PS3 gamepads, which is a plus for me because very rarely do indie games support PS3 gamepads. The controls are entirely mapable. More indie developers need to do this. Especially with 3D games.
These controls consist of movements with a joystick, camera panning, which you will literally never use, physical attacks, jumping, dashing, special attacks, and magic attacks. You can take 4 weapons into battle at a time which you switch between at your heart’s content. As with many hack and slash games, this is a button masher.
You will play 90% of the game with only the joystick and 3 buttons (physical, jump, dash). Special attacks (referred to as bombs for some reason) will play a role in later levels, but are in no way necessary to beat the game. And magic attack use will really depend on your style.
. . . Croixleur is the simple man’s God of War.
Each of the 20 obtainable weapons, which you have to find throughout the story mode, has its own special ability. This is your magic attack so it’s important that you pick a loadout that works for you because you may like a weapon but hate its magic attack or vice versa.
Magic attacks can range from a forward dash to a diagonal wave. As with any game, some are much more useful and effective than others. Weapons have a damage amount listed at time of selection and can be leveled up through use, but honestly I don’t notice any difference between weapons as far as damage ratio. At least not with standard enemies. You will find that the amount of hits it takes to kill enemies varies between colours and is consistent through all levels and modes except Bonus Mode where everything is made stronger.
But the needed number of hits between levels in that mode remains consistent no matter what weapons you’re using. For example, blue physical enemies are the 2nd weakest in the game and they take 3 hits to kill from the start. No matter how strong you get or how far you progress, this will always be true. Even when you level yourself and your weapons up you will notice no difference in performance.
You can level up in this game but it’s more for points than anything else. Your level reverts back to 1 each time you start a new round. Levelling up requires no attention. It just happens while you play and can happen in any mode. In my second playthrough of the story mode, I made it to level 62.
As far as combat goes, this is a pretty straightforward game. Each level has a number of enemies which is displayed in the HUD, and when you kill them all a portal appears to take you to the next floor to do it again. You will mostly use physicals to vanquish your foes.
Each enemy has a floating life and magic bar. Fallen enemies drop coins that are used to get more bombs. Each time you fill up your coin meter you automatically get a new bomb. You can carry a max of 5 bombs at one time. Coins and bombs do not carry over to other rounds so spam during the boss fight if you haven’t used them by then.
Boss type enemies also drop health. Enemies have consistent attacks regardless of colour. The only difference between them is their behaviour, health, and strength. Red enemies are more aggressive than yellow enemies, for example. Mini-bosses and bosses are fought the same way as any other enemy. There is no special mode or anything. They are also just as vulnerable to special attacks and cannot break your invincible moves.
Dashing is your best friend in this game. It makes you invincible, you can do it in the air, and you need it to chain moves. My favourite thing about the dash in this game is that it’s drivable. When you dash, you can steer it in any direction including curves. One of the most effective techniques is to attack an enemy from behind and then when it turns to face you, dash around to its back and attack it again in one fluid motion. You have to be careful though because dashing uses magic.
Magic is constantly regenerating automatically, but you can run out of it and then you will be given a no magic bubble over your head until it returns. It regenerates pretty fast though so this only becomes an issue with bosses.
Moves are chainable in this game. In fact, that’s one of the major selling points put forth by souvenir circ. in their marketing. You are limited to only 3 physical attacks in a row. If you don’t follow it with something else then your combo ends. But you can technically combo forever if you can manage to chain it properly.
The most effective chain is to attack 3 times, dash, then attack 3 times again. You can keep doing this until you get hit or run out of magic, but if you only single dash each time, your magic will regenerate faster than you can use so you should never actually have to stop your chain. You can even do this in the air, and it’s very effective for dealing with multiple flying enemies, which you can’t hit from the ground.
The biggest flaw with the combat is the fact that you can’t really hit enemies in the air from the ground or hit enemies on the ground from the air. This is an issue because you will notice that the game is slow. I don’t mean that the game runs slowly. While playing you will find that you just aren’t as fast as you’d like to be. I wouldn’t use the word latency though as in you get delayed responses to your commands. It’s as if the game was intentionally coded to make you not move as fast as you should be able to.
This is most noticeable when falling from the air. As I said, you can’t attack ground enemies from the air, except for taller ones like mini-bosses. This means that if you want to attack something on the ground and you are in the air you have to wait until you fall back to the ground. Now usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but the process of falling in this game is delayed. It can get very annoying, especially considering the fact that all modes except for Survival mode are contingent on time.
The story mode only allows you 15 minutes to complete it and the special ending requires you to finish it in under 10. You will notice the lag in falling and general movement once you start playing Challenge mode where some rounds are literally less than 10 seconds.
While moves are chainable, the CHAIN counter doesn’t actually count your attack chain. It counts the number of coins you’ve collected in a row without taking damage. This was a really odd mechanic. The chain counter is not time based and carries over between levels, but it has nothing to do with combat. You could kill 100 enemies in a row without taking damage but if you don’t pick up the coins, your chain will be 0. As with most games, the coins disappear after a few seconds. Something I really didn’t like was the fact that coins disappear during dialogue as well. When you get hit the chain counter goes back to 0 but you never lose any of your previously collected coins.
This game is based on the idea of unlocking content to progress. You start out with only 3 available modes and only the use of 1 character and 1 weapon. It’s not until you get the special ending that you unlock the second character and Challenge mode, but you only start out with 10/30 challenges. Then you have to get the special ending for the second character to unlock 10 more challenges, Arcade mode, and Bonus mode.
Arcade mode is just the story mode with no story in order to speed up your playthroughs and practice getting higher scores. There’s a Survival mode, which is just an endless mode. And then there’s a Time Attack mode which is just Survival mode with a 3 minute clock. The Bonus Mode was great because it continues the plot of the Story mode, but as a co-op conquest with both characters. You choose one and the other will be an NPC.
I enjoyed the fact that the NPCs actually contribute in this game. There’s nothing worse than a team member that just stands around doing nothing (looking at you Fable I). The NPC can get knocked out, but she gets back up after a while with partial health and her life is fully restored at the start of each level. The last 10 challenges become available after you beat Bonus mode.
There is 2 player co-op play, but sadly it’s only for the Time Attack and Survival modes. They should have also allowed it in the Bonus mode, but honestly it’s not that great. The second payer simply takes the place of the NPC. All the items collected by player 2 go to player 1, and if player 1 dies the round ends, but if player 2 dies she just stays dead but the round continues. Player 2 doesn’t even get to choose his or her weapons.
Something funny about the Survival and Time Attack modes is that if you kill a certain amount of enemies the other character spawns as an enemy. Something souvenir circ. may have overlooked is the fact that this still happens when you play co-op which means you can have 2 of the same character on screen at the same time.
The only real difference between the NPC as your partner or an actual human is that the camera zooms out to always keep both characters in frame during co-op play. As far as gameplay goes, it’s exactly the same for both characters and the screen is shared. But the focus is on player 1.
Pro Tip: When you first start the game you will have to configure your button map for player 1. This will only happen once, but can be changed at any time in game or in the configuration menu out of game. But to configure player 2’s controller you have to do it in the out of game configuration menu or else it won’t allow you to start up player 2’s controller. Commands are not cloned automatically.
Team members can also hit each other, but do not damage each other. Getting hit by team mates (human and NPC) will only affect your combo. The same is true for enemies. You will often see them hit each other with crossfire, but their health will be unaffected.
Logistically, this is a very good game. A simple HUD that stays to the outside of the screen and tells you everything you need to know. Clear messages about what you’ve accomplished flash across the screen at the end of battle. The game has full in game trophy support which works just as well as any console title. And I’m not talking about the Steam achievements. The game has its own built in trophy system and menu complete with 45 trophies.
The Story mode has multiple paths you can choose and I liked that it told you what paths you’ve already visited when you replay. But there were some issues as well. The tutorial is not interactive. It’s just a video with dialogue that shows you how to play but doesn’t let you try anything out. Challenge mode doesn’t let you retry when you fail. You have to go all the way out to the challenge selection screen and re-choose your challenge, character, and weapons.
You can only use weapons found by the character you choose. Fran finds much cooler weapons in my opinion, but sometimes you have to use Luc. Not really sure why the weapons are like that, but it’s not a super serious issue considering there’s no noticeable difference in their performance overall. But note that Fran’s playthroughs are harder than Luc’s. There’s an easy mode and a normal mode, but honestly it’s not that hard of a game so I don’t see any reason why you would need easy mode.
If for some reason you can’t beat the Story mode, you can continue if you die. But you can’t continue if you run out of time and continuing will forego the special ending. Final thought on the gameplay is that I enjoyed it, but it’s not perfect.
*Please note video is sped up and silent.
The sound quality in Croixleur is quite good. The music is varied and has a nice JRPG feel that changes from stage to stage. It’s loud, but not overwhelming during battles and soft during cutscenes.
The voice overs are all in Japanese and are good, but too soft and low even at full volume. The music overwhelms the voice overs so you may consider altering the sound settings and lowering the music. When playing with a headset I almost couldn’t hear the dialogue at all over the music. At the same time though, the in game sounds for the characters are loud enough.
The sound effects are pretty good. You have all the expected sounds for attacks, kills, coin collecting, scrolling menus, making selections and such. There’s no latency between sound and on screen action. It’s a solidly coded, well-toned game with good quality sound on all counts. Other than the voice over softness issue, I have no complaints.
Croixleur is very well written for a game that has a combined length of only about 45 minutes plus an intro. In true Japanese video game style, the game starts out with an admittedly too long introduction of the history/background of the setting. A great country in an old land has 2 competing factions that are vying for power in the name of patriotism and loyalty to the queen. This is the general lore of the game, but it’s not the focus.
The top student of each group is forced to compete in a trial to prove their group is the strongest. But it’s not really about the 2 rival groups. It’s really a story about 2 best friends that have known each other since they were little, but have been forced apart because of the factionalised system of the country. The plot focuses on the girls’ relationship and how they rebuild their friendship over the course of this forced trial that they have both been entered into.
The story is told from the point of view of the character you’re using so it’s important to play both the Story and Bonus modes with both characters in order to get the full story. The true brilliance of the plot is that the 2 characters perceive the situation entirely differently and because of this their friendship appears to have fallen apart. The governmental struggles and such do play a role, but only in as much as it justifies the fighting. Truly this is a story of friendship and rebuilding relationships with the ones you love.
Side Note: The dialogue between the two characters can get a little racy because one of the characters has a lot of underlying sexual connotations in her comments about their relationship.
I don’t want to sound like the lore isn’t important or well done, because it is. The background history plays a vital role in the conquest element of the story. The biggest problem with it is that it’s not developed enough. This makes sense because ultimately it’s all being seen through the eyes of high school girls, one of which is pretty ditzy to begin with. So you only get a young person’s perspective on the real situation.
If anything I would have liked to see more about the country’s plot. This game could be a prequel to a much more in depth game about the 2 characters journey to overthrow a corrupted system and save the betrayed Queen, but I’m giving too much away now. The point is that souvenir circ. wrote an intricate story, but didn’t really take the time to flesh it out. Part of the reason is most likely because the game is so short and the levels so simple. The whole of the game takes place in a tower. The next game would need to be set in the whole country and play much more like an adventure game.
. . . souvenir circ. wrote an intricate story, but didn’t really take the time to flesh it out.
I was also really happy with the descriptions for weapons in this game. When you obtain a new weapon you don’t just get a name and stats. You get a back story that sometimes sounds epic enough to be the plot of its own game.
It’s a game that’s well written but too simple for the level of writing, if that makes sense. This game needs an accompanying manga to go with it. My only complaint about the writing, which is really more of a logistics issue, is that the in game conversations between characters are only available in Japanese and they aren’t subtitled. This becomes especially important in the Bonus mode where you play alongside the other character. They talk a lot during this mode while in battle but as a non-speaker of Japanese I didn’t really know what I was missing. It may have been completely unimportant or it could have been serious plot development. I have no idea.
This game has a fair amount of replay value, but it’s questionable. To see all 4 endings you would need to beat the story mode 2 times with each character, 2 of which would have to be in under 10 minutes with no continues. But considering the game only takes about 15 minutes of actual playtime, even with dialogue these 4 playthroughs will maybe equal a total of 2 hours max.
Then there’s the Bonus mode which is a continuation of the story for another 15 minutes times 2. There are only 30 challenges in challenge mode, albeit some of them are actually challenging, but not impossible. Each of these takes no more than a few minutes as well. Most of them take less than 10 seconds of play time and many of them won’t require more than one try.
I beat the first 7 in a row on the first try and other ones scattered throughout the 30. Say 5 – 10 minutes a challenge max if you get stuck and you won’t get stuck on all of them. That’s another 2 – 3 hours at best. After that it really comes down to achievements, unlockables, and score. There are 45 achievements in total, but a number of them are awarded simply for number of kills and things like that, thus forcing replays. These achievements don’t really add to the game. They just add to your play time so I usually don’t go for them intentionally.
There are a total of 20 weapons to collect (10 for each character) and level up to max, so if you care to do that you can get a few extra hours of play. But once you do, it really comes down to if you care about raising your high score. So my final judgement is that the game can afford you a minimum of 3 hours of gameplay if you just want the full experience of all the modes, but also want a minimalist run through.
Or you can probably squeeze out 8 – 10 hours depending on how good you are. The truth is that if you perform very well on all your first tries in all the modes then you could technically do everything except collect and max out all the weapons in under 4 hours. There’s also a co-op mode for the Score Attack and Survival modes which again really comes down to you.
If you and a friend do super runs your first try and collect the achievements then it’s maybe 20 – 30 minutes of gameplay, but if you suck then you could get hours out of it if you really care to. Based on my usual scale of $1 per hour, I think this game just slides in when counting the maximum replay value in the gameplay clock. But I do not think that $7.99 is too much in this case. I won’t say that the price is too low for the amount of gameplay available, but I wouldn’t want to see it any higher either.
All in all, Croixleur Sigma is a solid game. I’ll admit that I have a bias because it’s the first indie game I’ve played on PC that has excellent PS3 gamepad support. But ultimately my real reason for supporting this game is that souvenir circ. was able to create a game in a genre that is usually released on consoles. Hack and slash action games are one of my favorite genres, but they rarely appear on PC and are rarely good as far as gameplay when they do show up. That’s one of the main reasons that I’ve been primarily a console gamer for so long.
While Croixleur may not be God of War, it’s pretty good for an indie PC game of this genre. For the $8 price tag I can happily support this game. Good, but underdeveloped plot, solid graphics, clean sound, good but flawed gameplay, and a fair amount of hours of gaming in total. I think it’s not that Croixleur is necessarily a great game. It’s just that I enjoy playing it. There’s a free demo on Steam so you can try it before you buy.
- Full gamepad support.
- Epic (but underdeveloped) plot.
- Unlockable content.
- Gameplay can feel slow.
- Too short.
- Player 2 is little more than an NPC in co-op.
OS: Windows XP, Windows Vista, 7
Processor: Intel Core2Duo (or equivalent) or better
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Graphics: 512MB or more of VRAM
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 800 MB available space
Sound Card: DirectX9.0c or later compatible
Additional Notes: Using a game controller is recommended!